Reflecting on Steve Jobs & Apple’s Approach to User Experience

It was sad news that Steve Jobs lost his fight with Pancreatic Cancer last week. We wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on some of the things that Jobs (and Apple) brought to usability and customer experience.

It is widely agreed that Steve Jobs designed “insanely great products”, many of which have revolutionised the way in which we interact with technology and create and consume digital content today. Many of these products could be described as ‘disruptive technologies’ i.e. technologies that were game changers disrupting existing markets. For example, the popularisation of the ipod and iTunes changing how we consume music, the Apple LaserWriter printer combined with true type fonts and PageMaker software (made by Aldus, now Adobe) started desktop publishing, making the mobile web accessible and sticky through it’s applications for the masses through the iphone etc. Apple products may not have always been the first of their kind but they were usually the first of their kind that were both easy to use and widely purchased. Whilst there were many engineers involved in the creation and design of Apple products, there can be no debate that Steve Jobs was an influential force in Apple’s successes.

In 1984 Jobs unveiled the Macintosh computer to a very excited audience which fast became the first commercially successful small computer with a graphical user interface and a mouse.

Steve Jobs introduces the Mac 1984

The Macintosh computer through its use of a graphical user interface and a mouse provided people with a mental model to understand how to use it through it’s metaphor of a desktop, folders and icons etc. It should be acknowledged that this new interface within the early Apple products revolutionised the usability of computers exponentially. Whilst many other engineers were solely focused on the technology, Jobs understood the value of considering the people you are designing technology for.This sentiment can be seen by the promotional material for The Lisa, the predecessor of the Macintosh, as “the personal computer that works the way you do”. From the iPad, to the iPhone, to the iPod, Jobs and Apple continuously delivered products that were easy to use and easy to love.

Jobs also understood the value of creating exceptional customer experiences. He infused Apple with a culture that valued design and cared about the details. According to Jobs: Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

This consideration of how things worked went beyond the design of products. Not only did Apple focus on the design of exceptional products, they also considered every part of the purchasing process, both before and after you open the beautifully designed box. Apple’s retail service has been meticulously considered and designed across the entire customer life-cycle. Got a problem with your Apple device? Make an appointment with the Genius bar where an Apple Genius will assist you. Need some help with how to use your new Macs’ inbuilt movie making software? Book in for some training. (NB The inclusion of software with computers too was an early Apple innovation). If you ring technical support and give them your serial number they will know your name and when your warranty expires. The personal service you get when you go to an Apple store and talk to a customer representative about your needs gives you confidence that you are investing in the right solution for you. It’s this understanding on the entire customer experience, the focus on ‘details’ and ‘how things work’ that make customers feel valued and create customer advocacy. Apple makes buying their easy to use products easy.

This holistic approach can also be seen by Apples’ investment and evolution of iTunes and it’s associated services and sister products. Through iTunes, Apple was able to develop a content and product eco-system (a Product-Service-System) combining their products with services, creating a lucrative business model which others are trying to emulate. Through a tightly coupled integration between multiple hardware devices, media storage, indexing, acquisition and consumption, Apple has all bases covered. With iTunes and it’s associated devices one can discover, purchase, download and then consume content in minutes, on one device without leaving your armchair. The fact that you can even purchase and consume media through iTunes on your PC is testimony to the fact that they think beyond just their products.

This meticulous attention to detail, a focus on how thing work, the requirement for well designed products, and the intentional design of customer interactions across multiple touch-points all contribute to superior customer experiences and unprecedented customer advocacy for Apple. Further, we can all thank Steve Jobs for popularising the idea amongst his business contemporaries that better design makes both sense and cents (well more like dollars)!

Steve Jobs was a true innovator, a brilliant designer who really understood what people need and a remarkable entrepreneur. Thank you Steve, you will be missed.

Jax Wechsler, October, 2011.